Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Baker Ranch Rodeo Featured in Films

Clyde Smyth, former Santa Clarita mayor and retired high school district superintendent, has unearthed a bit of Santa Clarita's history in the most unusual of places.

The artifacts Smyth uncovered were not found on an archeological dig or even in his backyard. Rather, they were unearthed in his mother's garage. Tucked inside an old crate were several film canisters — two which were labeled, "Baker Ranch, Saugus, California."

Clyde Smyth
Former Santa Clarita mayor and high school superintendent H. Clyde Smyth unreels the leader of a film shot by his father of the Baker Ranch Rodeo in Saugus in 1928. Photo by Dan Watson/The Signal

Baker Ranch, now the Saugus Speedway, was the site of annual rodeos in the 1920s and '30s that often drew 18,000 to 25,000 spectators from all over California and neighboring Western states — four or five times more than the population of the entire Santa Clarita Valley at the time.

Totaling 18 minutes, the two reels of film were shot in 1928 by Smyth's father, Clyde Hamilton Smyth.

Realizing the historic importance of the films, Smyth donated the films, and the rights to them, to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, whose main function is to preserve Santa Clarita's heritage and to educate others about it.

"To keep it just ourselves, who's going to see it?" Smyth asked. "As a family, we wanted to donate it to a place where people can enjoy it, where they can get something out of it.

"If you live in a community, you can't just take something, you have to give something back," Smyth said. "And this community has been very good to me and my family. And this is our way of giving back."

The nitrate film was found to be excellent condition — as were other films he uncovered of the 1927-29 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, which he donated to the Tournament for its archives.

The historical society took the Baker Ranch Rodeo films to Richard D. Smith, a film preservation expert and technical director at Consolidated Film Industries in Hollywood. Smith, a SCV resident, donated his time and expertise, painstakingly creating a new master and making an additional copy in VHS format for viewing.

The original nitrate films were then returned to Smyth to store in a vault.

It was not until last week, 73 years after they were created, that the ex-mayor and his son, City Councilman Cameron Smyth, finally got to watch the 18-minutes of film for the first time.

"The film itself is in excellent quality and it shows not only Baker Ranch but the area around it," Clyde Smyth said.

Hoot Gibson
Click image to see Hoot Gibson, from the film.

To everyone's surprise, the silent film contains close-up shots of Hoot Gibson, an early Western film star and trick roper with whom Clyde's father was acquainted — as well as an appearance by William S. Hart, whose movie-making days had ended a few years earlier but was still adored by fans. In the film, Hart, seated in the grandstands, waves and tips his hat to the applauding crowd.

"This is a fascinating and important piece of our history," Historical Society President Leon Worden said. "It's amazing to me that it even exists, let alone that we are fortunate enough to have Dr. Smyth share it with the community, and for Richard Smith to preserve it professionally."

Worden said although still pictures exist, the "new" film is the only known motion-picture footage of the Baker Ranch Rodeo. He said the historical society will probably schedule a public viewing later this year.

"The images are strikingly clear and sharp," he said. "The quality is better than many old films you see on television."

The mini movie contains footage of bronco busting, cattle roping and trick riding and roping. It is well edited — a credit to the skills of the film maker, who even added titles to the movie.

Smyth said his father "had a camera with him all the time."

Smyth's father, born in Ohio in 1892, was himself a bronco buster on the Western rodeo circuit and had a career that was every bit as illustrious as his film subjects. Fondly remembered by his son as a "man of many talents," he came out West after his formal schooling was complete and began working on combines — machines that cut hay — from Canada to northern Texas.

Smyth joined the Army during World War I and became a fighter pilot. He was also a master mechanic.

"He had such a varied life," Clyde Smyth said. "He did so many things."

Clyde H. Smyth
Click image to see the elder Clyde Smyth.

At the time the Baker Ranch film was taken, Smyth said, his father had been spending winters in California and summers in Canada, where he later met his wife. The family settled in Pasadena in the early 1930s. Clyde Jr. remembers being taken to the Baker Ranch as a boy in the 1940s — when it was known as the Bonelli Ranch, after its then-owner William G. Bonelli Jr.

"My first remembrance of this valley was the Saugus Speedway when they had race cars," Smyth said.

He also recalled his father's tales of the undeveloped SCV, including the story of the San Francisquito Dam Disaster in 1928.

"You'd just have to sit and talk with him because he was a very unusual man," Smyth said. "He had a lot of experience."

The elder Smyth died in June 1981 at the age of 89.

The films had been untouched until Smyth's mother was in the process of selling her home. In donating the films, Clyde Smyth said he believes it is important for people to know, and keep, a historical record of their roots.

"We are what we are by virtue of what we were in the past," he said. "There are so many new people here. The historical society can play an important role by keeping people in touch with their roots."


Baker Rodeo Film Story
Clyde H. Smyth ~1918

Clyde H. Smyth ~1926

Hart School District 1986-87

H. Clyde Smyth

H. Clyde Smyth ~1996

H. Clyde Smyth, City Council 1996-98

H. Clyde Smyth Obituary & Funeral Service 2012

Cameron Smyth, City Council 2000-2006

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